Unending Seige

Vimy Ridge

Vimy Ridge and German Strategy

In 1917 the French had replaced Joseph Joffre with Robert Nivelle, who claimed that the German wall could finally be pierced in the south between Soissons and Reims. To the north of the French armies the British accepted the mission of mounting some powerful diversionary attacks that would pin down dozens of German reserve divisions in that sector. One of these British diversions, assigned to the Canadian Corps, was Vimy Ridge.

This objective, with its peak nearly 120 metres above sea level, stretched for several kilometres from Lens in the north to Arras in the south. Its conquest would not change the face of the war, but it would deprive the Germans of a plateau in the Flanders plain that dominated the neighbouring area for kilometres. After their defeat on the Marne, the Germans had drawn back to this position from which the French had many times attempted to dislodge them. Moroccan colonial troops had climbed the plateau in 1915 but, lacking support, yielded to the German counterattack.

At this stage in the war - spring 1917 - the Germans viewed this place as one of the pivots in the defence of their fortress: Trenches, barbed wire, concrete redoubts, dry shelters and railway lines gave the occupying troops the illusion that they were unconquerable. The Canadians had a slope that was fairly easy to climb, while the defenders often had steep cliffs at their backs. The German defensive strategy at that time accepted the loss of advanced trenches all along their front, anticipating their recapture in strong counterattacks by reserves massed behind. However, the tactic could not be applied in this particular sector, which called for maximum defence of the front lines at the risk of losing everything if the battle went badly, since in many spots it would be difficult to attempt a reconquest of recently abandoned cliffs.